Five Sailing Superstitions to Retire and One That Should Be Kept

Superstitions in the world of sailing go back to the dawn of modern civilization. Sailors were a peculiar breed (still are) and were serious about these weird idiosyncratic “don’t do’s”. For many a skipper, these mystical rules were based in enough loose fact to warrant some attention. “Red skies at night sailors delight – red skies in morning sailors take warning” might not have been scientifically proven but you can bet it was based on some case study. However, some of them need to be formally shut down. No one has the authority to do this but we propose to the sailing Gods to let these tokens of bad luck go unnoticed by thee… except one.
  1. Bananas are bad luck on a boat.
    This was started (allegedly) because a number of ships in the 1700s sailing between Spain and the Caribbean , carrying bananas, disappeared. Some astute sailors did the math and realized it was the bananas fault! Perhaps it was, but we believe that modern bananas have changed their ways and that it is now perfectly safe to sail your boat and have a banana at the same time.

  1. Women are bad luck
    This one is quite retired already but now its official. Back in the day, it wasn’t so much that women were bad luck as it was men couldn’t handle doing their jobs and simultaneously flirt with women. So some wise skipper probably threw that luck decree down to stop this problem because “luck” carried weight in the sailing world in those days. Although men not being able to do their jobs and flirt wit women is probably still a real problem in the commercial realm, we say, women on boats are no longer bad luck… not that they ever really were.
  1. No red heads on board
    Red heads have had to endure some very subtle bigotry throughout history and perhaps it all started to go south for them when the sailing industry decided they were bad luck. According to the Maritime Museum, “Red heads were believed to bring bad luck to a ship. If you met one before boarding, the only way to mitigate the bad luck was to speak to them before they could speak to you.” We say, of course this is preposterous, but if you are a red head and you like to sail, maybe just keep a lid on it until people introduce themselves… just to be sure
  1. Good hygiene bad luck
    It was thought that anyone aboard who trimmed their nails, cut their hair or shaved their beard brought bad luck to the ship. Maybe… just maybe, this was a superstition created to justify the collective poor cleaning habits of a certain group working class folks? Whatever the case, this one does not apply anymore. History has now proven that many many sailors who are not super smelly and gross, in fact, succeed on a regular basis – superstition retired!
  1. Flat footed people are bad luck
    It is lore that flat-footed people were unlucky aboard a sailing ship, and were said to be avoided by sailors before they boarded. First, one has to wonder… are flat feet that obvious? Was flat foot tolerance just at an all time low during the days of tall ships? Let’s assume that and not that there was truly any bad luck associated with the flat footed. Today this superstition is retired, so welcome all of those flat footed friends you once had reservations about – welcome them aboard… it’s safe now.
  1. Whistling is bad luck
    This one we’re keeping. Not because there is any truth to it – for sure there isn’t, but no one wants to hear that weird whistle half song you have going. You’re not that happy and even if you are, just smile; you don’t have to perform a “number” with your lips. It’s not even a tune you like, it’s just a tune you know. Drop the whistling, grab a sheet and let’s go sailing.
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Matt gilmore
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Matt gilmore

With prevailing weather drifting from west to east….Red skies at night means the skies have to be clearing for the sun to be showing. Red skies at dawn says that clouds are about to overtake the sun as they travel on there easterly direction..therfore clouds are starting to cover the sun .I’ll fated weather ahead.

Brent Mitchell
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Brent Mitchell

The whistling issue is actually based on fact. The old tall ship captains issued orders to crew who used whistles to signal the men stationed on the masts to trim the sails. Therefore, anyone whistling might confuse these crew members, causing ‘bad luck’, or fouled sheets and extra work.

Fred
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Fred

Whistling is also bad luck backstage for the same reason. Early theatre riggers in the 1700’s came off the tall ships, in fact much of the terminology today is the same; pin rail for example. If you whistled backstage some sailor turned stagehand might mistake it for a command to unfurl a backdrop an a heavy sandbag might fall on your head.

Jack
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Jack

The banana issue I have heard was because Tarantulas would nest in the top area of a bunch of bananas and once underway they began hatching and soon the boat is over ridden by the scary beasts

Lisa
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Lisa

Bananas are/were bad luck for 3 reasons:
1. poisonous spiders nest in the bunches and crawl onto the sailors
2. banana skins emit a gas; enuf of it can be combustible and explosive
3. A boat fast enough to transport bananas to market is TOO fast for the sailors to catch and land fish. Hence, transporting bananas is bad luck for fishing sailors.

Surprised you didn’t address departing on a Friday – THAT’s an interesting background!